Luis Joaquín García writes an opinion piece on the El Correo Farmacéutico website in a call for greater collaboration between professionals and inclusive policymakers to better and more effectively address mental health problems in today’s youth.

Adolescence is a particularly vulnerable time for the development of mental health difficulties. In fact, 75% of people who face these problems develop them before the age of 25 and 50% during adolescence. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2015, 4.4% of the world’s population suffered from depression and 3.6% from anxiety, a figure that represents 615 million people and which continues to grow annually.

The consequences for young people are severe and lead to poor academic performance, low self-esteem, increased likelihood of suffering (cyber) victimization, alcohol abuse, substance use, and suicidal behaviour. Early and adequate detection would help to tackle these symptoms more effectively. However, and despite these data, emotional disorders are the least identified mental health problems in young people. This is joined by the fact that around 40% of adolescents with anxiety and 60% with depression do not receive adequate treatment, despite the efficacy of treatment programmes and psychotherapy interventions. What we see is an excessive tendency towards medicalization. For example, 18.9% of Spanish over-15s take benzodiazepines or tranquilizers, while 8.4% take antidepressants or stimulants.

Recently a report has been drawn up and published by a Spanish network comprising mental health research teams, and in collaboration with members of the education sector, young people, minority groups, policymakers, end-users, and professionals working in the fields of epigenetics, linguistics, ICTs, nutrition, physical activity, and public and community health. This report, which is freely accessible online at, is the result of work carried out by the PROEM network, funded by the ministries of Economy and Science, the State Research Agency (AEI), and ERDF grants.

Limited collaboration

Among the causes listed in the Report and Roadmap on the State of the Art, Needs and Recommendations for Improving Psychological Assessment and Promoting Mental Health and Emotional Well-being in Young People is the limited collaboration between different professionals, with fragmentation between researchers and actors in the spheres of education and healthcare. This is accompanied by little attention to what end-users, stakeholders, associations of affected people and counseling organizations working to promote youth mental health have to say. The lack or shortage of psychotherapeutic skills, time and resources held by education and healthcare professionals facilitates overmedicalization in adolescents.

Another aspect dealt with in this document is the administration of standardized interventions. They tend to be approached less effectively, patients are dehumanized, and less intervention adherence is observed. The desirable outcome is to personalize treatment programmes, taking on board the patient’s unique symptoms, their environment, their life experiences and addressing gender-specific characteristics and the stress that comes with belonging to a minority group (sexual, religious, ethnic, language).

Intervention protocols

Thus, it is necessary to promote the development and implementation of evidence-based intervention protocols in educational and healthcare settings. These should emphasize interdisciplinary and inclusive approaches instead of medicalization as the only and/or priority alternative. To achieve this aim, early detection from different perspectives and approaches is essential, as is working to eliminate the stigma that emotional problems such as anxiety and depression continue to present. Furthermore, investment in inclusive mental health policies is key when it comes to providing more personalized care and assistance, actively listening to the different players that interact with young people (parents, teachers, pediatricians, psychologists and psychiatrists, counselors and minority groups).

In Spain today, funding for research into mental health does not cover the impact that these disorders have on the population. This occurs despite reports suggesting that for every euro that goes into mental health research, a return four times its investment is yielded. A healthy society, one that embraces emotional and physical well-being, should welcome the next generation. It is therefore of utmost importance that we invest in the mental health of our young, who are the future of our society.


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